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Jammu, the refugee city of India

Jammu , Tue, 03 May 2011 ANI

Jammu, May 3 (ANI): It is not a happy city. The winter capital of the strife-torn state of Jammu and Kashmir has too much angst to pass off as just another temple town of India, seeking to profit from tourists who come here either for pilgrimages or for its climate.


Spring is indeed beautiful in Jammu. The well manicured lawns in the up-market localities where huge houses owned by either serving or retired government employees have large blossoms and chirping birds. Traffic stops for police and army officers and senior politicians. There is an overpowering presence of government here.


I travel to the outskirts of the city, to Basti Chak Bhoopat, a hamlet occupied by Hindu refugees who fled from the newly formed country of Pakistan in 1947. There are about 20,000 'West Pakistanis' as they call themselves, along the 200 odd kilometers of the Line of Control (LOC) in this region. They are the 'nowhere people' of Jammu and Kashmir.


The state does not give them a 'Permanent Resident Certificate' because they migrated from the Punjab province of the newly formed Pakistan in 1947. Geographically, a large part of Jammu sits cheek by jowl with the Punjab province of Pakistan.


This certificate is only given to those whose ancestors lived in the united Jammu and Kashmir state before 1954.


I met with several of the displaced persons who now are now second and third generation refugees. They live in abject poverty, and are not eligible for government jobs or even bank loans, as for all administrative purposes, they don't exist! They occupied homes and lands vacated by Muslims who migrated to Pakistan. But they don't possess any ownership papers so they can't sell their property either.


Since they cannot vote for assembly or panchayat elections, they do not have any political representation in the state.


Labha Ram Gandhi, the president of the West Pakistan Refugee Association, says, "We have had two Prime Ministers who came to India as refugees from Pakistan. I.K. Gujral and Dr. Manmohan Singh. We have even had a deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani who came here as a refugee, but none of them have cared to help us. They mouth platitudes and assure us that yet another generation of ours, now the fourth, will not be bereft of their rights. But none have delivered so far."


There is an 'Anganwadi' school in the village but kids drop out after a few years to help in farms. They have no hope of getting government jobs and the private sector is not an option that they can even consider.


A few miles away is the Bhour Camp where the 'forgotten people' live. They are the refugees who came in from Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, mainly from Mirpur and Muzzafarabad. These Hindus and Sikhs came in 1947, 1965 and 1971 during the India-Pakistan wars, as they faced persecution in Pakistan. There are over 1,200,000 of the 'forgotten people' living in Jammu and neigbhouring areas with no defined political status.


They are subjects of an undivided Kashmir. And, the Government of India wants them to go back to Mirpur and Muzaffarabad one day, because technically India still considers those areas as a part of its own territory that is wrongfully in the hands of Pakistan.


The Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) refugees got little or no compensation, as they never could prove that they owned land and property in PoK, and they were not considered 'refugees' like the Punjabis who came during partition. Who are these people? Are they 'refugees', 'migrants', 'displaced persons' or 'internally displaced persons'?


I spoke with Rajiv Chunni who runs the SoS, an organization that works for the restoration of rights of PoK refugees.


He says: "India is a member of the United Nations but like other countries in the subcontinent is not a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention. But India doesn't have even a domestic law to identify refugees."


"And then, there is this unanimous Parliamentary resolution of 1994 that declared PoK as an integral part of India and that India will get it vacated. But how will it be vacated? Realistically it's impossible," he adds.


"It has never come up during the India-Pakistan talks. India should accept that Kashmir is the core issue of dispute, but not that Kashmir which is with India but that Kashmir over which you (Pakistan) have illegal control," he says further.


Chunni claims that Jammu has more displaced persons than any other city in Asia. Whether they came in 1947, 1965 and 1971 or due to militancy in the Kashmir Valley from 1989 onwards, the displaced persons have made Jammu their temporary home.


"The government has no plans to tackle with this problem. World wide, refugees occupy camps for two or five or even 10 years till alternate arrangements are made and they are rehabilitated. This is probably the only place in the world where we still live in areas named as Camp this and Camp that even after sixty years," Chunni says.


In the heart of the city is the Muthi camp, where some 500 Kashmiri Pandit families live in appalling conditions. It is one of the most depressing places I have ever been to. Refugees in their own land - they are the 'internally displaced'.


About 326 families have been allotted better housing in Jagti Township, constructed to rehabilitate these refugees who came in from Kashmir in the 1990s fearing persecution. Some of them fled to Delhi and some here in Jammu. They are cramped into little hutments, with open sewage and shared toilets. These are people who once had their own homes and an enviable life style in the Valley. Twenty years have gone by and they have waited in vain for the situation to improve in Kashmir, so they may return.


Dr Ajay Chirungoo, the Chairman of Panun Kashmir, an organization of displaced Kashmiri Pandits, says the return of over a 150,000 of them to Kashmir is dependent on the security environment.


Dismissing the call for their return by separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani as a hoax, he says, "Geelani is one of the perpetrators of violence, now it suits him politically to make these statements. They are mere statements."


Chirungoo says there is little chance of Hindus returning to the Valley soon.


"The alienation has deepened for us. The process of engagement by the interlocutors has been held hostage to separatist leaders. Why is that the case? These separatist leaders are not talking about freedom or Azadi as an empowerment tool for its people," he says.


He adds: "This Azadi or freedom is nothing but fortification of a set of people who belong to one particular religion. The Salafi brand of Islam has overridden the Sufi Islam that was part of our culture. The building of Geelani as lone voice of the Valley is giving credibility to this harsh brand of Islam."


Kashmiri Hindus see hints of a conspiracy in the renewed call for them to return to the valley. They say that a token number of them will be tempted to return to the Valley to give the impression to the rest of the world that peace is returning to Kashmir and then some deal will be struck between governments of India and Pakistan.


The Kashmiri Hindus here are so accustomed to rumours and conspiracy theories and being treated as pawns in larger geo-political games, that they are cynical of any talk of return to a place where they were killed because they were off a minority religion.


I asked the Chief Minister when and how he plans to tackle this problem of refugees.


Disappointingly, Omar Abdullah says, "I am not in a position to lay down a time frame for them. It is a complicated issue. There is the humanitarian side which we can't ignore, and then, there is the legal and political side to it, that has to be factored in."


Abdullah also cites the parliamentary resolution about PoK, which he can't ignore, though realistically he admits it's impossible to imagine that India will recover that part of Kashmir.


He says, "My party and my father (Dr Farooq Abdullah, former CM of Kashmir) have been very vocal about that."


He says there are many issues about PoK that should be discussed openly, "like the growing Chinese influence there, and what it means to Kashmir here."


The unfortunate story of Jammu, the refugee town, is that it is a story that has been told so many times that nobody wants to listen to it anymore.


It finds little or no mention in the state assembly of Jammu and Kashmir and almost none in the Parliament. Hundreds of thousands of Indians are bereft of their rights and they have no voice. By Smita Prakash (ANI)


Read More: Krishna | Raji | Chiru | Ali | Bhour | Muzaffara

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